DIY Small Space and Emergency Heater Ideas

Knowledge worth keeping on file. I’m not saying these are the only ways to get heat. I’m simply presenting some options after this bitter and frigid last couple of winters. Below are just two ideas from the same guy on YouTube. His channel is good info and fascinating! Great stuff for van lifers!

DISCLAIMER: Of course, whenever you’re dealing with open flames, including candles, you never want to leave them unattended or lit all night. Please be careful and act responsibly.

Keep in mind you can make this smaller for your van. He’s heating a large room in his house in this video.

With an Update:

This one is for the more timid, but still works great!

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Sounds interesting but do think it is risk free especially if you are traveling with kids?


I’d be very leery of those brick ones inside, and the cost of candles can add up big time.

I have seen some conversions that have replaced was candles with oil filled ones with wicks. These are very versatile, multi fuel, cheap, and pretty safe to use. One of these conversions on Youtube converts a UCO Candelier 3 candle job to a 4x oil candle one. The original one is rated at 5k BTU, the conversion would likely up that by at least a third. Here’s a video about the conversion:

I have a Bunsen Sports Heater / Cooker that I use and love:

A friend has an Origo Heat Pal, but uses either kerosene or vegetable oil in it instead of alcohol. Like the Bunsen, it’s both a heater and a cooker.

I also have a big 23k BTU kerosene heater for extreme cold weather use, which can also be cooked on, but it is overkill for most people.

Many people also use a pot of sand or dirt on top of their camp stove.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

A tea candle is going to produce about 80 Watts of energy, so four of them (or 320 Watts) is half the typical low setting of an electric space heater. And as always, fire burning in a small room is unsafe, and not just because you might ignite something nearby. So if no electricity available, then you’re stuck with something that is a combustion source for heating. Choices might be a propane, natural gas, or kerosene fueled heater.

Though a space heater used with care to have a fresh air supply adequate for the combustion (that means you’re bringing in cold air to support the combustion) and the room monitored with a CO sensor. When kerosene was relatively inexpensive, we used the very high efficiency space heaters for heating a cabin. Properly adjusted, these burned very clean and were safe.


After re-reading this thread, I realized I forgot to mention some of the most important ways to stay warm especially in small spaces where it really isn’t safe to run any type of combustion heater, and maybe not even a typical electric heater.

Available at many truck stops, and I’m sure online too, you can get 12v plug into the cigarette lighter, heating seat cushions and blankets. Just be sure to get the ones with adjustable temperature settings because they will hold a specific heat level and use much less power.

I actually have the more deluxe version of both of those that both heat and cool. These have tubes of liquid running through them, and I believe they are thermo-electric (Peltier powered). I have these seat cushions in my drivers seat, my cabin seat, and one on top of my bed under the top sheet, folded out flat. Then I have one of the blankets on top of my bed, and one within easy reach of my cabin chair. I never run more than one at a time, but they will keep you either warm or cool regardless of the weather or outside temperatures. They draw 5 amps @ 12v when they’re actually heating or cooling, but that’s only about 1 minute out of every 10. Using one both day and night adds up to about 10 amps per day, not bad at all. Only 3-5 amps if just overnight.

While I don’t have personal experience, they also have heating & cooling clothes available. They might be USB powered or rechargeable. Regardless, if you can’t run a combustion heater, and don’t have shore power available, you can still stay warm or cool while also staying safe.

Also worth mentioning are the Zippo style of hand/pocket warmers. Much cheaper than the disposable ones in the long run.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller